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British Colonisation of Australia

Australia before Colonisation

Before there was any external influence, there were many indigenous people who had inhabited Australia. The population of the people was over 750,000, roughly. What actually brought these Australians to the historical limelight was its discovery by explorers, and also, cultural-artistic developments. They were a part of the ancient populations that existed for over six centuries.

The first notable inhabitants of this region were said to have gotten to the Australian mainland between 50, 000 and 60, 000 years ago. From this region, there was spread population to other parts of the continent, and also, there were developments of artistic, spiritual and musical traditions which still remain significant surviving tradition on the mother earth.

The major economic engagement was hunting and gathering and it was exercised according to some spiritual traditions, and also, artistic developments, include adaption to different sorts of technologies. Considering the archaeological evidence from different sites in this Australia, the early hominids existed in this region perhaps 60, 000BP, 40, 000BP or 39, 000 BP. Apart from these technologies, it was posited that fire was discovered and used in this region 46 millennia ago.

This occurred as a result of the spread of population. There were many technological developments made by the indigenous peoples as evidenced by the found remains by the archaeologists. Summarily, the focus of this work will rather be on the colonisation of this region by the British Empire. That is the history of Australia from the earliest time to 1900.

European Invasion

It was obvious that there were many expeditions sent to discover the southern continent, the home governments showed enthusiasm about the expeditions because of their respective baser, deeper motives. While some of these explorers achieved little and some achieved nothing, another personality rose. The British Empire also showed interest in sending English explorers to discover this region. Among the imperial powers that sent explorers to this region were the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, and the British Crown.

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The Spanish 

It is unarguably true that the Spanish government always sought for colonies during the period. In fact, it was the first state to acquire enormous gold and silver due to its premier exploration of southern America. Also, the Spanish power sent an expedition in 1567 to this region, and this expedition later discovered the Solomon Islands.

The Dutch

Abel Tasman, the popular Dutch seaman in the Dutch East Indian Company, in 1642 explored southward. Tasman sighted the West Coast and made an anchor off the southeast coast (now Tasmania). Before his return, Tasman also explored the Island of New Zealand where he was severely fought back by the Maori aboriginals of New Zealand. In all, Tasman achieved but little in the course of the southern continent’s exploration, the Dutch East India Company considered his exploration fruitless.

The British

James Cook, one of the most significant explorers of the British Empire, in 1770, embarked on Pacific Voyage. Cook claimed the eastern coast of Australia for the British Crown. With this, a new colony was established by the British Empire with a base in the south. The very reason behind this establishment is open to historical debate. Some scholars state that the reason behind the action of Britain was to alleviate overcrowding in British prisons, while some believe it was to exploit the natural resources of this region.

With this region becoming a melting pot for various peoples and cultures, there was outbreak of diseases which led to the death of over 90% of the population in Australia, just as diseases killed many Americans when they were still under European colonisation, and also New Zealand’s fate under colonisation. In 1788, the official colonisation of the continent began with the arrival of Cap. Arthur Phillip, his crew members, and others at Sydney Cove. Measles, smallpox, influenza, killed the majority of the indigenous population, and also, there was outbreak and spread of several sexually transmitted diseases.

There were protracted wars between the indigenous peoples and the British officials. There were land disputes. These people were infiltrating the lands of the indigenous peoples and even fought and got them massacred so that they could easily establish territories.

Cook, many times, landed at Botany Bay, and later he claimed the land and named it New South Whales. The British Crown was very interested in the exploration of both the south and the east. However, Cook was not able to complete the exploration. Mathew Flinders, a famous post-settlement explorer beseeched the government that the name Australia should replace New Holland, and in 1817, this proposal was accepted and executed.

In the French exploration, summarily, little was achieved, except that the explorers named some features, especially on the southern coast. For an instance, Terre Napoleon was used to referring to the southern coast.

Official Colonisation Began

The British started to settle in New South Whales from 1786 upwards, and in 1788, official colonisation of the region began. There was continuous migration of the Englishmen, particularly, into Australia, and the home government was really involved in the development of this country. Arthur Phillip, the commander of the expedition, was a man that really contributed to the expansion of this region, especially, westward and eastward “to include adjacent islands.” The British government continued to transfer convicts to this region. In 1787, about 730 convicts were sailed in the first fleet going to Australia.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of the fleet on January 19, 1788, there were different sorts of crises, some of which resulted from poor soil, water scarcity and continuous land disputes between the English settlers and the aboriginals. Diseases from Europe (measles, smallpox, chickenpox, etc) affected the indigenous population and depopulated the area drastically.

The British settlers were quickly evacuated northward to Port Jackson, which was already marked but not explored by Cook. Often there were massacres of the indigenous people by the British in terms of “mass shootings, or driving groups of people off cliffs.” And sometimes, the indigenous people were killed with (poisoned) foods.

The indigenous people pulled all efforts they could to resist colonial invasion by continually resisting the violation of their right to land majorly. The British settlers wanted to arrogate to themselves the right to sell the people’s land, and the latter resisted with concerted efforts. No less than 20, 000 aboriginals were killed as a result of the conflict between the invaders and the aboriginals, who disputed intrusions. And thousands of settlers died from the conflict in the frontier.

By the late 1880s, a set of people qualified to be called the indigenous people of Australia formed the Australian Natives Association and campaigned “for an Australia federation within the British Empire.”

They advocated for Australian heritage in terms of literature and history, and notably, “lobbied for the 26 January to be Australia’s national day.” And also in 1885, there was the formation of a Federal Council of Australasia, which New South Whales and South Australia later showed interest in joining. Although there were some internal disputes, some major personalities of the federation continued to advocate for a federal Australia. And finally, when Governor-General Lord Hopetoun proclaimed the Federal Constitution on the 1st of January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia began existence.

Cite as: Faforiji Tadese. British Colonisation of Australia. October 14, 2021. Tadexprof. Retrieved at


  1. Genger, Peter (2018) “The British Colonization of Australia: An Exposé of the Models, Impacts and Pertinent Questions,” Peace and Conflict Studies: Vol. 25 : No. 1 , Article 4. DOI: 10.46743/1082-7307/2018.1437. Available at:
  2. Colonisation of Australia. Australians Together. Retrieved at
  3. History of Australia. Wikipedia. Retrieved at
  4. British Settlement Begins in Australia. This Day in History (Archives). January 26, 1788. History’s Blog.
  5. The Rise of Fall of the British Empire in Australia. The National Archives. Retrieved

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.